Tour of Nalanda – journey to history

Nalanda is one of the most visited historical places of India. Though in ruins today, yet thousands of tourists from around the world visit Nalanda everyday to have a glimpse of the ruins of Nalanda University which was once the oldest and largest university of the world. A tour of Nalanda will take you to the rich legacy of the oldest university of the world and will amaze you with its architectural uniqueness as well. The ruins of the University of Nalanda with its scholarly look stands tall telling the story of its glorious past, even today.


Stupa of Sariputta at the Nalanda University ruins

Where is Nalanda?

The ruins of the university of Nalanda is in the Indian state of Bihar and is approximately 90 Km from the state capital, Patna.

About Nalanda

Nalanda was not only famous for being the largest centre of knowledge and learning, it was also known to be an important centre of Buddhism. Lord Buddha is said to have visited Nalanda several times during his lifetime. Even Mahavira, the founder of Jainism has visited Nalanda during its golden era. Though there is no evidence but many historians and scholars are of the opinion that, it was in Nalanda, that Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira perhaps has met each other.


Portion of the Nalanda University ruins

The ruins of Nalanda University though point towards a rich and glorious past, but do not provide any conclusive evidence. It is the account of the famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) which is the main source of our knowledge of Nalanda. That’s why, discussion of Nalanda is incomplete without the mention of Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese traveler who came to India during the rule of Harshvardhan and studied at Nalanda.

From the account of Hiuen Tsang we came to know that the University of Nalanda was founded in the 5th century by the Gupta rulers. The construction of this great centre of learning was started during the reign of Kumara Gupta (413-455 A.D.) and the later constructions was carried on under the patronage of King Harshvardhan (606-647A.D.) and Pala Kings (8th-12th century A.D.), during the 7th century A.D.
In this first residential international university of the world, 1700 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the world lived and studied. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks. The library of the university was very big and consisted of three buildings, one of them nine storied.

Admission to Nalanda University was very tough. The rules of the university were very strict and had to be obeyed. Students were not required to pay any fee. The expenses of the university were met by the donations given by the rulers and the rich. The main courses which were taught there were the Buddhist scriptures (both Mahayana and Hinayana), Vedas, Logic, Shabda Vidya (grammar), Chikitsa Vidya (medicine) etc. This great centre of learning and education was famous even in far-off countries. Nalanda passed into obscurity when Bhaktiyar Khilji destroyed the entire university complex of Nalanda in 1197 A.D.

What to see at Nalanda?

The main attraction of Nalanda is undoubtedly the ruins of the University of Nalanda. People from around the world visits Nalanda to appreciate this oldest university of the world and have a feel of what a great centre of learning it was.

Ruins of Nalanda University

Excavation work has so far taken place over 14 hectares of area. Excavation has so far unearthed 11 numbers of monasteries running north to south. In the complex, the buildings are divided by a central walkway that goes south to north, the monasteries or “Viharas” are located to the east of this central passage and the temples or “Chaiyas” to the west. Almost all of the monasteries have the same pattern and is of 62.5*51.5 m size, with of a number of monk’s cells with wide verandas in front. A row of built in temples was facing these monasteries. The main temple was a gigantic structure of 36.6*36.6 m at the base, and its main shrine stood at 18 m to 24 m above the ground. This imposing lofty structure was the result of six successive rebuilding. In the centre, there was a small stupa built of half-baked bricks (46*33*11.5cm) made of earth mixed with straw and rice. Recent excavation has brought out the remnants of a 24 metre high clay statue of Buddha and beautiful wall paintings of human and animal figures.


Nalanda University ruins showing some of the monasteries

Superior quality and well-baked bricks with mud mortars or lime-concrete were used in the construction of the monasteries and temples of Nalanda. Wood was used in the construction of the roof. The floor and the pavements were laid on a bed of lime-concrete. The drains were made of brick layers with corbelled arch at the top. The bricks used in Nalanda do not show any effect of decay. Stucco images made by mixing broken brick pieces with lime and plastered with a layer of lime are common at Nalanda. The clay for moulding the images was prepared by treating ordinary clay with several indigenous ingredients such as grains of barley, wheat, lac, pumpkin, milk, butter, cow dung, oil etc., which were kneaded for a fortnight and were left for over a month to mature.

The stupa of Sariputta, the foremost of the disciples of Lord Buddha is the one which we mostly see in all the images of Nalanda. This is the largest visible structure of Nalanda, today. Excavation work is still going on in Nalanda and adjacent areas, which may reveal more wonders to the world.

For a virtual tour of Nalanda university, just click HERE.

Archaeological Museum

A visit to the Nalanda Archaeological Museum after visiting the ruins of the once existing Nalanda University gives you a descent idea of the life and culture of the people and the kings of that era. The main museum building is situated within a big and beautiful lush green garden. Established in 1971, opposite to the entry gate of the Nalanda University ruins, the archaeological museum has a good collection of ancient manuscripts and Buddhist statues that are rare in both appearance and style. The museum also displays artifacts of the Maurya, Gupta and other periods.


Stone sculpture at the archaeological museum of Nalanda

Out of 13463 antiquities, 349 are on display in the four galleries of the museum. The antiquities from Nalanda are datable from 5th to 12th century AD but some of those from Rajgir are a little earlier in date. Though the sculptures kept in this museum are made of stone, bronzes, stucco and terracotta but majority of those have been carved on Basalt stone. Most of the images belong to Buddhist faith but those belonging to Jains or Hindu religion are also quite good in number.
Except on Fridays, the museum can be visited any day from 10 am to 5 pm.

Hiuen Tsang Memorial

Another major attraction of Nalanda is the memorial hall of the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang who is an invariable part of any discussion on Nalanda. Hiuen Tsang came to India in 633 AD i.e. during the Gupta period and stayed at Nalanda University for twelve years. According to legend, the memorial hall has been constructed at the same spot where this great Chinese monk and traveler is said to have resided for over 12 years during his stay at Nalanda both as a student and as a teacher.


Hiuen Tsang memorial at Nalanda

The memorial hall and the entire complex is indeed a treat to the eye. You will definitely fall in love of the place and its architecture. This memorial hall also houses some famous writings of Hiuen Tsang that provides valuable information about medieval India and the Indian historians owe much to him for his contributions and the masterly explorations he carried out that led them for further archaeological explorations.

Statue of Black Buddha

This is another unique attraction of Nalanda. This black Buddha statue, excavated from the grounds of Nalanda has been given a shed latar on. This is hardly a temple. The local people call it as Tili Buddha (Oil Buddha). There is a popular belief that this statue of Lord Buddha has unique healing powers. Whenever a child gets sick his or her parents if pay a visit to this statue and anoint the Buddha’s belly with oil, the child invariably gets cured.


Statue of Black Buddha at Nalanda

The image idol of Lord Buddha here is in Bhumisparsha Mudra. It is covered with cloth and garland. Followers of Buddhism consider this statue of Lord Buddha to be extremely holy. Buddhists come here in large number and offer prayers by oiling the belly of the statue of Buddha. This statue is more popular among Thai Buddhists who offer prayer here for over an hour.


Another place worth visiting in Nalanda is the Kundalpur Jain Temple, which is just within 1 Km from the entry gate of Nalanda University ruins. It is an important pilgrimage centre of the Jains for being the birthplace of three out of the eleven disciples of Lord Mahavira. Gutam Swamiji, the first and most important disciple of Lord Mahavira is said to have born here. Even Lord Mahavira himself came here several times to preach his religious teachings. Agnibhuti and Vayabhuti, brothers of Gautam Swamiji and also disciples of Lord Mahavira were born here making this place extremely pious and sacred for the Jains.


Jain temple at Kundalpur near Nalanda

The beautiful white marble temple complex is a piece of architectural masterpiece which is indescribable and spectacular at the same time. The existence of such a large temple complex so close to Nalanda is a testimony of the fact that Jainism was widely practiced during the same time when Buddhism was in full popularity.


Trip of Nalanda can never get completed without visiting Pawapuri, the holy pilgrimage of the Jains. Situated at a distance of about 16 Km from Nalanda, an exquisite marble temple in the middle of a lotus pond, called Jalamandir, standing magnificently on a rectangular island will make you spell bound.


Jalamadir at Pawapuri near Nalanda

Lord Mahavira, the twenty fourth and last Tirthankar attained “Nirvana” or eternal salvation from the cycle of death and birth in the year 527 BC in Pawapuri, popularly known as Apapuri at that time. He was cremated here and legend says that, as he was extremely popular and a virtual God-like figure among masses, people started taking the ash left in his pyre. It is said that the demand for his ashes was so great that a large amount of soil was removed from around the funeral pyre, creating a large pond. Latar on King Nandivardhan, elder brother of Lord Mahavira constructed the temple of Jalamandir in the pond. The temple enshrines the footsteps of Lord Mahavira and marks the spot where the mortal remains of Lord Mahavira were cremated.

A stone bridge of about 600 feet in length connects the temple of Jalamandir from the bank. The Jalamandir, a virtual feast for the eye is a circular shaped structure in white marble that rises in slow steps and have various terraces in it. Not only Jains but devotees belonging o all religion and tourists visit this sacred site throughout the year.

How to reach Nalanda?

By Air

The nearest airport from Nalanda is Patna around 89 Km away. There are regular flights from Patna connecting Kolkata, Delhi, Ranchi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Lucknow and Kathmandu.

By Rail

Rajgir 12 Km away is the nearest railway station from Nalanda. Although the nearest major railway point is Gaya around 65 Km away, and is well connected to all major Indian cities.

By Road

Nalanda is connected through a good road network with Rajgir 12 km, Bodh Gaya 50 Km, Gaya 65 Km, Patna 90 Km, Pawapuri 26 Km, and Bihar Sharif 13 Km.

Where to stay at Nalanda?

There are only a few hotels and rest houses available in Nalanda. It is better to stay at Rajgir and visit Nalanda on a day excursion. There are a number of good qualities and budget hotels available in Rajgir. Some of them are:

Indo Hokke Hotel, Rajgir (Booking contact number – 06112-255245/035/037)

Gautam Vihar, Rajgir (Booking contact number – 06119-255273)

Tathagat Vihar, Rajgir (Booking contact number – 06119-255176)

Ajatsatru Vihar, Rajgir (Booking contact number – 06119-255027)

Hotel Siddharth, Rajgir (Booking contact number – 06112-255216, 9431069053).

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About the Author: Hi! friends, travelling is my passion and my only hobby. High mountains to deep seas, lush green forests to barren deserts, holy places to sites of historical importance, - every beautiful place attracts me the same way. I want everyone to feel the same and so through my writing I intend to take you all to a virtual trip to all those lovely places that I have visited.

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  1. […] Two other destinations around Rajgir that are a must visit sight in Rajgir tour are, Nalanda and Pawapuri. To know in details about Nalanda tour and Pawapuri, click at: Tour of Nalanda – journey to history. […]

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